December 20, 2011
For kindle version - http://amzn.to/uisPUQ
As the human population expands the natural world around us disappears. This is a fact we mostly ignore as we go about our daily life. One day, you wake up, and discover that within your own lifetime things have been permanently altered.
When John Muir made his "Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf" the U.S. was not as heavily populated as it is today, although much had changed from the time when European settlers first moved through the area he explored -- a path that stretched from Indianapolis Indiana to the Gulf just north of what is Tampa Florida today.
Muir moved South in the aftermath of the Civil War, so he encountered much unrest, unhappiness, and destruction along the way. He describes not only the flora and fauna he found but the condition of humans as they struggled to rebuild their lives.
He says, "My plan was to simply to push on in a general southward direction by the wildest leafiest, and least trodden way I could find, promising the greatest extent of virgin forest." To a great extent, he was able to do that, however, he could not escape some of the realities of the world around him. For example, in Georgia, he encountered the graves of the dead, whom he says lay under a "common single roof, supported on four posts as the cover of a well, as if rain and sunshine were not regarded as blessings." A bit further he says, "I wandered wearily from dune to dune sinking ankle deep in the sand, searching for a place to sleep beneath the tall flowers, free from the insects and snakes, and above all my fellow man."
February 21, 2008
Smelling the roses in the desolation of war
John Muir (naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club) left his home in Indiana at age 29 and "rambled" 1,000 miles through the woods of the southern US ending in Florida in 1867/68. It was just 2 years after the end of the Civil War and he ran into "wild negroes" and long-haired horse-riding ex-guerrillas who would kill a man for $5. He passed through uninhabited stretches of burnt out fields and deserted farms and was often seen as a northern interluder mistrusted by his southern guests. He lived mostly on stale pieces of bread, almost dieing of starvation while camping in a graveyard outside of Savannah, GA. He caught malaria and was bed ridden for 3 months, cared for by a kind family in Florida.
This is a snapshot of the south right after the war and the contrast between Muir's beautiful nature writing and the devastation of war are just as striking today as they must have been for the many people who encountered this unusual walker of the woods. Muir's writing is under-stated - the book was published posthumously and is more a diary than a finished book, which gives it a truthfulness and matter of factness. Fundamentally a Romanticist world-view - the power of nature and mans relation to it - Muir delights in finding, sampling and discussing plants, animals and geography. The genre is best compared with Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes' and Thoreau's 'The Maine Woods'.
--Review by Stephen Balbach (C) cc-by-nd 05-2007 0
http://www.lulu.com/content/2008275 (via PulicDomainReprints.Org)